2022 Discovering Italy: Crossroads of Culture, Heritage and History

Discovering Italy

Discovering Italy:

Crossroads of Culture, Heritage and History 2022


Seminar Dates 2022

July 10 - 21st

In July 2022, CWB plans to launch its first educational tour of Northern and Central Italy, with the aim of exploring the country’s rich history, as well as its Jewish heritage. Italy’s Mediterranean and overland trade routes were used as military conduits over the centuries, as well as channels for the dissemination of culture and knowledge. As a result, Italy was subject to the most brutal of invasions, whilst serving as a focal point for creativity and learning. Between the sixth to third centuries BCE the Italian city of Rome conquered Peninsular Italy; over the next few centuries, this empire spread to dominate the Mediterranean and Western Europe. This Roman Empire would go on to define much of Europe's history, leaving a mark in culture and society that outlasted the military and political machinations of its leadership. After the Italian part of the Roman Empire declined, Italy fell to a succession of barbarian invasions beginning in the fifth century. The previously united region broke apart into several smaller bodies, including the powerful Papal States, governed by the Catholic Pope. Thus, as the seat of the Papacy’s spiritual authority and temporal power, Italy was the epicentre of Western Christendom. By the 8th and 9th centuries, a number of powerful and trading-oriented city-states emerged, including Florence, Venice, and Genoa; indeed, these were the forces that incubated the Renaissance. Italy, and its smaller states, also went through stages of foreign domination. Unification and independence movements throughout Italy developed ever stronger voices in the nineteenth century after Napoleon created the short-lived Kingdom of Italy. However, a war between Austria and France in 1859 allowed several small states to merge with Piedmont, resulting in the unification and creation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. However, Italy was subverted when Mussolini took power as a fascist dictator, and although he was initially skeptical of Hitler, Mussolini took Italy into World War 2 rather than risk losing out on what he perceived as a land grab. That choice led to his downfall. Modern Italy is now a democratic republic and has been since the modern constitution came into effect in 1948. This followed a referendum in 1946 which voted to abolish the previous monarchy by twelve million votes to ten. In addition to its influence on the trajectory of European history, Italy was also home to the oldest Diaspora Jewish community following the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in the year of 70. Joined by Jews of Franco-German origin (Ashkenazim) and from Spain (Sephardim) during the Middle Ages, the Jews of Italy thus constituted a distinct subculture of the Jewish Diaspora. As was the case for most communities throughout the Jewish world, the Jews of Italy came under the shadow of the Holocaust, doubly so because of Fascist Italy’s alliance with Nazi Germany. Remarkably, between 75%-85% of Italy’s Jews survived the Holocaust. Nevertheless, the issue of the Vatican’s policy during the Holocaust and the stance of Piux XII, the wartime Pope, is particularly contentious. Yet the Holocaust also served as a stimulus for the most radical of transformations in Jewish-Christian relations, particularly in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. Although numerically small, the Jews of Italy today constitute an active and vibrant community, the main centres of which are in Rome. Florence and Milan

The goals of the study seminar include:

  • To enable participants to embark on an intellectual and physical journey into the core origins and elements of Western Civilization; its uniqueness, its growth and development
  • To review the key phases and elements of Italy’s long and complex history from antiquity to modern times
  • To understand the historical evolution of the Jewish people’s relationship with the Papacy and the Vatican
  • To appreciate the intellectual and cultural achievements of the Jews of Italy and of their participation in the wider society across historical periods
  • To examine the emergence of Fascism in Italy and the Jewish experience of fascist rule
  • To study the response of Italians to the Nazi occupation of Italy and the impact of the Holocaust on Italian Jewry
  • To develop an awareness the economic and social challenges facing Italy today
  • To learn from local leaders about the situation of the contemporary Italian Jewish community
  • To facilitate the ability of educators to create techniques to bring back their knowledge and experience to students in the classroom
Underpinning these individual objectives, is the wider goal of enabling educators to explore ways of bringing the experience of this tour back to their classrooms. The tour organisers thus envision teachers and students returning to the USA with an enhanced ability to convey to their respective school communities the insights they gained into the various issues raised during the course of the tour. This will be accomplished through an ongoing connection between the participants at a post-trip seminar. Tour participants will be encouraged to prepare various teaching programs and student projects using photos, film clips, literature and personal testimony. The vision is to create a “learning community” in which participants can feed off of each other's expertise and work together to better implement the goals of the program. Questions we intend to address during the course of the tour include the following:
  • How did the legacy of the Roman world of antiquity influence the West?
  • As the epicenter of Western Christendom, how did Italy influence the historical trajectories and destinies of Western and Central Europe?
  • What factors were responsible for Italy’s historical role as the “cradle of the Renaissance?”
  • Why were the Jews of Italy able to straddle the worlds of their thoroughly traditional Jewish communities, whilst simultaneously taking from and contributing to the cultural and intellectual traditions of the wider society, especially during the Renaissance?
  • In what way did the Jews of Italy constitute a distinct subculture of the Jewish Diaspora?
  • How did the nineteenth century unification and independence movement alter the course of Italian history?
  • How did Italians deal with the Nazi occupation during WWII and how did they respond with the Nazi attempt to exterminate the Jews of Italy?
  • How can we explain the relatively high rate of survival of the Holocaust by Italian Jews?
  • How did the Holocaust influence the process that led to the radical transformation of the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people?
  • What can we learn about our own American identities through our interaction with a similar, yet different, Italian society?

Tour highlights:

  • Soak up the fun filled atmosphere of Venice’s magnificent San Marco’s Square and admire the Golden Basilica as well as the historical Doge Palace
  • Enjoy riding along Venice’s scenic Grand Canal
  • Explore the streets of Murano (where you will be staying whilst in Venice) and see the island's venerable glass-blowing techniques in action
  • Retrace the footsteps of Venice’s medieval Jewish past as you walk through the former ghetto with its five beautifully preserved synagogues
  • Visit Padua’s stunning Scrovegni Chapel which contains the most complete series of frescoes executed by Giotto in his mature age
  • Visit the recently completed state-of the-art Museum of Italian Judaism and the Holocaust in Ferrara
  • Lose yourself in Bologna’s beautifully preserved historical centre which also contains the oldest existing university in continuous operation
  • Immerse yourself in the artistic riches of Florence at the Uffizi and Academy Galleries, the latter home of Michelangelo’s famous statue of David
  • Walk along Florence’s Arno River whilst enjoying its stunning bridges
  • Visit the magnificent Moorish style Great Synagogue of Florence and its former ghetto area
  • In addition to experiencing one of Siena’s best kept culinary secrets, you will also be able to marvel at the exquisite beauty of its shell-shaped public square, the Piazza del Campo, and learn about the fascinating story behind the square’s biannual horse race
  • Explore the walled medieval hill town of San Gimignano, famous for its architecture which is unique in the preservation of about a dozen of its tower houses
  • Experience the rich medieval Jewish heritage of the stunning cliff top village of Pitigliano, once known also as “Little Jerusalem,” because of the thriving historical presence of its well-integrated former Jewish community
  • Relive the world of ancient Rome when you visit the Roman Forum and Colosseum
  • Learn about Rome’s medieval Jewish community during your visit to the area of the Roman ghetto, established in the mid-16th century by the infamous Papal bull Cum nimis absurdum
  • Visit Rome’s historic centre visit Rome’s historic center and delight in the city’s must-see sites including the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona and the Pantheon
  • Conclude your tour of Italy with a guided tour the Vatican where you will see its museum’s artistic riches, Michelangelo’s masterpiece – the Sistine Chapel, and the grandeur of St Peter’s Basilica




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